Why do we love summer so much? Could it be the hot lazy days, the bright skies, the time spent outdoors running, cycling or playing tennis? Or, could it be the food? Yes, the food. It could, quite possibly, be the food.
Summer is the season of picnics, BBQs and social events that evolve around food and, lest we forget, drinks. Delicious, colorful, aromatic dishes and cold refreshing cocktails with decorative multi-colored miniature paper umbrellas. More often than not, these events will include high fat, calorie-laden foods and drinks that are hard to resist. Even the most disciplined of eaters may find themselves reaching for another helping. It's no surprise then that summer eating can lead to summer weight gain.
When we consume more energy than we expend, our bodies store the extra calories as fat. A common misconception in summer is that we think we can afford to eat more because we are more active. True, we do tend to take part in more outdoor physical activities in the summer, but a jog in the park may not burn the thousands, yes thousands, of extra calories we devoured at last night's pool party. Underestimating the number of calories we consume at our summer functions, is the reason why we start to see the number on the scale creep upwards.
The good news is that we do not have to sacrifice summer socializing to keep our bodies at a healthy weight. With a few simple strategies in place we can still enjoy summer festivities without packing on the pounds.
1. Keep a Food and Exercise Journal
Recording your physical activity and everything you eat and drink every day is an excellent way to help maintain your weight. It's easier now than ever, thanks to hand-held computer devices and cell phones that offer software applications to help you keep note. Review your journal before you go out to a summer social. If you've already eaten more than you should for the day and missed your morning workout, you might be more conscience of what you will eat at the event. Likewise, if you have been particularly careful about your food choices all week, you might decide it's okay to indulge just a little. Either way, journaling will make you more mindful of what you eat and this will help you choose what is right for you.
2. Make the Company Your Focus
Before you head out to your event, mentally prepare yourself to be sociable. Be prepared to mingle and converse with everyone. If you put your energy into the people there rather than what is laid out on the buffet table you might have less time to grab a second helping or pick at the party chips-after all, it's hard to socialize with a mouth full of food. This by no means suggests that you shouldn't eat anything! You wouldn't want to offend your host or go home hungry. Eat until you feel satiated and the meal portion of the event seems to be dwindling down, then step away from the food and start chatting up a storm with another guest. And, if the event calls for dancing, swimming, or a sport activity of some kind, get moving once you have given your food time to digest.
3. Do Your Homework
We all have our weakness. For some it may be ice cream, for others it could be fried chicken. Whatever your secret indulgence is, find out how many calories, fat and sodium is contained in a single serving. Armed with this knowledge, you might be dissuaded from taking a second helping, or you might even skip the food altogether and choose a healthier option instead.
4. Be a Healthy Host
Planning, cooking and cleaning up before and after an event can be a lot of work. But, the single best benefit about hosting a summer party is that you get complete control over the menu. Create mouth watering dishes using seasonal fruits and vegetables, low fat protein and smart healthy fats. Even traditional BBQ favorites like potato or pasta salad can be modified to decrease the fat and calorie content by simply switching to a homemade oil, vinegar and herb dressing rather than prepared mayonnaise. Be sure to lay out platters of fiber-filling raw fruits and vegetables instead of chips or crackers for an easy low calorie grab-and-go snack. Your table will look spectacular with all the season's brightly colored foods, and your guests will love the variety.
5. Bring a Dish
If you are invited to a backyard BBQ offer to bring either part of the main dish or a side, rather than dessert or alcohol. Whatever you bring, make sure you create something you like and it's healthy. This way, you can load up on at least one healthy option and take smaller amounts of the not so healthy choices.
6. Exercise Portion Control
Summer eating should be enjoyable. But, nothing can put a kink in your party spirit more than pulling out your measuring cups at the family get together to ensure you haven't exceeded your portion sizes. Use your hands as your guides: your fist is equivalent to about one cup; your palm is about 3 ounces; your thumb tip is equal to about 1 teaspoon; and your thumb is about 1 ounce. Remember these estimations when loading up your plate. Another good rule to follow is to fill half your plate with complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein, and the remaining quarter with whole grains.
7. Don't Drink Your Calories
Outdoor summer events can become uncomfortably hot, so it's important to stay hydrated. Instead of quenching your thirst with alcoholic drinks, fruit juices, soda pop or creamy frozen drinks, reach for water instead. One or two of these other drinks are all right, but anything more than that will add up in the calorie department. Water should be your main drink of choice. If the taste of water is too bland for your party spirit mode, add a squeeze of fresh citrus, some fresh mint or a few handfuls of berries or cucumbers.
8. Employ the 80:20 Rule
The aim of summer eating (and eating all year round too) should be to eat well at least 80 per cent of the time and reserve only 20 per cent of the time for not so healthy options. It's okay to indulge once in a while. Don't beat yourself up if you eat a little more than you should have at last night's party-guilt is a useless emotion. Besides, with an active lifestyle and a healthy eating program, you shouldn't see any change in your weight. Today is a new day, enjoy the summer sunshine and have fun.
Image: Premshree Pillai